The Real Story: Million Dollar Arm

Posted on April 29, 2014 at 8:00 am

It sounds like a movie.  No, it sounds like a fairy tale, but it really happened.  A sports agent named J.B. Bernstein found two cricket-playing Indian athletes named Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel by staging a reality television show and brought them to the US to play baseball. More than 30,000 men tried out on the show, which was Bernstein’s idea as a way to find a source for possible overlooked players with potential — and for possible new fans for baseball from the world’s second most populous country.

Even though they had never played baseball before, Bernstein found USC trainer Tom House (played by Bill Paxton in the film) to taught them to pitch so well that eight months after arriving in the US they were professional baseball players for the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was inevitable it would become not just a movie but a Disney movie, along the lines of “The Rookie” and “Miracle.”

The upcoming film starring “Mad Men’s” Jon Hamm as Bernstein and Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal as Singh and Patel has over the closing credits some photos and video clips of the real players.  Here’s a news story about their journey.

Singh finished 2012 with the Class A West Virginia Power of the South Atlantic League, and Patel was released in 2010.  He is back in India and still involved in athletics.  They met with the filmmakers and the actors who played them on screen and had a chance to relive some of the incredible events by watching the filming.

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Sports The Real Story

More on Ebertfest, Including My Interview in the News-Gazette

Posted on April 28, 2014 at 11:07 am

nell at ebertfest
Photo by Melissa Merli Copyright The News-Gazette

Many thanks to Roger Ebert’s favorite reporter covering Ebertfest, Melissa Merli, for a wonderful interview.

This is her third year at Ebertfest, where she handled the onstage Q-and-A after “Short Term 12” was shown Thursday afternoon. That movie made her Top 10 list last year. As for Ebertfest, she “absolutely” loves it.

“What I love most about it is there is no intense air of competition. Everybody watches the same movies together and talks about them afterward,” she said Friday between screenings.

And for the most complete coverage, be sure to check out rogerebert.com.  Hope to see you all there in 2015!

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British Pathe Releases 85,000 Films to YouTube for Free

Posted on April 28, 2014 at 8:00 am

British Pathé, producer of thousands of news footage going back to the days before television, has released 85,000 of them to YouTube so that everyone can access them.  It’s like an online time machine, incomparable treasures of historical figures and events.  According to their blog:

Newsreel archive British Pathé has uploaded its entire collection of 85,000 historic films, in high resolution, to its YouTube channel. This unprecedented release of vintage news reports and cinemagazines is part of a drive to make the archive more accessible to viewers all over the world.

“Our hope is that everyone, everywhere who has a computer will see these films and enjoy them,” says Alastair White, General Manager of British Pathé. “This archive is a treasure trove unrivalled in historical and cultural significance that should never be forgotten. Uploading the films to YouTube seemed like the best way to make sure of that.”

British Pathé was once a dominant feature of the British cinema experience, renowned for first-class reporting and an informative yet uniquely entertaining style. It is now considered to be the finest newsreel archive in existence. Spanning the years from 1896 to 1976, the collection includes footage – not only from Britain, but from around the globe – ofmajor events, famous faces, fashion trends, travel, sport and culture. The archive is particularly strong in its coverage of the First and Second World Wars.

Alastair White continues: “Whether you’re looking for coverage of the Royal Family, the Titanic, the destruction of the Hindenburg, or quirky stories about British pastimes, it’ll be there on our channel. You can lose yourself for hours.”

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Ebertfest Celebrates the 25th Anniversary of Two Classic Films: Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” and Oliver Stone’s “Born on the 4th of July”

Posted on April 27, 2014 at 10:11 pm

As several people noted, 1989 was a remarkable year for movies and Ebertfest paid tribute to two of the best, Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” and Oliver Stone’s “Born on the 4th of July.”  Even for those who know the films well, seeing them projected onto the Virginia Theater’s giant screen was revelatory.  “It’s criminal to watch a movie on your iPhone,” said Lee, who was especially happy to have a pristine 35 mm print to show.

Lee spoke about the reaction to his film when it was released, from Roger Ebert angrily saying he would never return to Cannes because they passed over “Do the Right Thing” to give their top award to “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” to other critics who worried that the movie would inspire riots.  Many talked about the destruction of the pizzeria owned by the Italian character.  But none mentioned the police brutality that led to the death of the black character.  (Chaz Ebert said that she still has Lee’s letter to Ebert, telling him to go back to Cannes, despite the snub for the film.)   His next film, “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus,” was funded via Kickstarter.  He told the audience that was just a high-tech version of the kind of crowd-funding he has done with all of his films.  “It just used to be phone calls and postcards.”

Oliver Stone, whose career will be covered in a new book from rogerebert.com editor Matt Zoller Seitz, appeared with his 1989 classic, “Born on the 4th of July.”

One of the highlights of each Ebertfest is a silent film accompanied by the Alloy Orchestra.  This year, we saw “He Who Gets Slapped,” the first film completed by the brand-new studio MGM, with breakthrough performances by Norma Schearer, Lon Chaney, and John Gilbert and stunning direction from Swedish director Victor Seastrom (Sjöström).

Three of the films presented at Ebertfest were directed by women.  Haifaa Al-Mansour’s “Wadjda,”the story of young girl struggling against the restrictions imposed on women in Saudi Arabia, was a favorite of the crowd.  Al-Mansour, who also wrote the film, spoke about the restrictions she herself faced.  She had to sit inside a van to direct the film so she would not be seen giving orders to men.  She was grateful for the support of her family, who believed she could do whatever she wanted.  “The little freedom I had allowed me to dream.”

Director Ann Hui appeared with “A Simple Life,” based on the true story of the reversal of roles when a long-time domestic servant has a stroke and the man she has cared for all his life must take care of her.  She told us, “I was more moved by Roger Ebert’s review of my film than by my film itself.”

Lily Keber presented her documentary about New Orleans musician James Booker, “Bayou Maharajah,” followed by a live performance by one of the musicians featured in the film, Henry Butler.

A trailer for the festival by Michael Marisol was played before each film.  A commencement address by Roger Ebert with his thoughts on the way movies contribute to empathy and understanding is intercut with scenes from the selected films, including the documentary about Ebert, “Life Itself.”  It became one of the festival’s most beloved entries.

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